Domestic Policies under Benito Mussolini
Toby Heinemann, Class of 2010
Mussolini's domestic policies placed heavy emphasis on nationalistic interests and production, with the aim of creating a self-sufficient and modernized Italy. Although private property was maintained and some degree of free market continued, the economy was primarily coordinated by the government through both direct and indirect means. As with many regimes of the time, dissenters were put down without hesitation by a broad-reaching and powerful secret police. The Lateran Treaty, between the Vatican and Italy as a whole, finally settled land issues and political disputes between the Church and Italy as a whole. Mussolini also established himself as a public figure—'Il Duce'—and utilized a combination of terror tactics, indoctrination and propaganda to ensure his continued command. Ultimately, Mussolini desired a more ordered and efficient Italian lifestyle.
The 'Corporate State'
Mussolini's efforts to increase the productivity and self-sufficiency of Italy began in earnest in 1921, when a series of protective tariffs were levied on foreign imports to lower competition and aid Italian industry. In 1927, the Labor Charter was passed, promising to bring 'government, employers, and workers together into one group.' In effect, this Charter reorganized all of Italy's industry into 22 massive corporations, each essentially one 'field' of industrial development—so all metal-works became a single aggregate corporation, etc. . The workers and individual employers within each corporation were given (virtual) representation in the government, and all workers were automatically provided with health and accident insurance by whichever corporation they were serving. However, the workers could not go on strike, relying instead on an elaborate appeals process to make any changes to working hours, wages, or conditions. These changes were rarely, if ever, implemented due to the system of representation in the government—workers would often be discriminated against by employers and government officials, both of whom could veto any proposed alterations to existing conditions. Ultimately, the Labor Charter met with very little success, although it was maintained throughout Mussolini's reign.
War on Wheat
The first of several great 'domestic wars' Mussolini instigated, the War on Wheat (also called the Battle for Wheat) was designed to increase the production of wheat within Italy, the goal being the creation of a truly self-sufficient state. Essentially, the War on Wheat forced farmers to optimize wheat over all other crops, which actually led to a vastly reduced yield of vegetables and other products throughout the nation. Further, agricultural lands were expanded broadly, often into areas better suited to other crops. Although grain production nearly doubled and imports decreased by almost 75%, the production of all other food products decreased drastically. Foreign imports of meats, vegetables and other foodstuffs increased dramatically, causing an increase in price and general damage to Italy's economy. Interestingly, though the price of grain did drop substantially, even at the height of its own production it would still have been cheaper for Italy to import all of its grain from the US—essentially rendering the War on Wheat a massive waste of effort.
War for the Lira
Another 'domestic war,' the War for the Lira (also called the Battle for the Lira) was essentially a power play aimed at both increasing morale and heightening Italy's prestige both nationally and internationally. Mussolini decreed that Italy's currency, the Lira, was worth substantially more than its actual market value. At first, this was viewed very positively by the Italian people, as it represented a bold and aggressive example of their nation's power. However, it quickly began to create major problems. Foreign trade, already stymied by high protective tariffs and a lowered export rate, took a sharp decline as other nations realized their buying price on Italian goods was much greater than the actual worth of items, while their sales accrued far less than their products were worth. Within Italy, the few remaining smaller companies and independent businesses were rapidly overtaken by larger ones, putting many out of work or in less-than-ideal positions. Broadly speaking, the War for the Lira was a complete failure, although it did slightly increase morale throughout Italy during the first few months of its implementation.
More or less the one succesful element of Mussolini's domestic policy, the Lateran Treaty finally ended a long series of disputes and rivalries between the Vatican and Italy. For a long time, the 'Roman Question,' as it was known, had been causing difficulties not only in Rome, but in Italy's relationship with the Roman Catholic Church as a whole. During early Italian unification, the papacy was restricted to only a small cluster of buildings within the Vatican, the rest of the city technically under the jurisdiction of the Italian government. Several Popes complained about being 'prisoners' within the Vatican—although this situation was originally arranged between Pius XII and the troops of the unification. The Lateran Treaty finally resolved these problems, establishing the 108.7 acres of the Vatican City as it exists today and granting sovereign rule of this area to the Pope and Roman Catholic Church. It also gave the new nation full political recognition and clearly delineated the exact extent to which the Church was allowed to influence Italy (still a Roman Catholic nation). Although somewhat voided once Mussolini lost power, the Lateran Treaty and its principles have been upheld since it was first established.
Beyond economic controls and failed morale boosters, Mussolini also established several social 'reforms' in his attempt to create a more powerful Italian state. Like many other fascist leaders, Mussolini made heavy use of a secret police force to ensure his policies were being followed and eliminate dissenters by force. To reinforce his control, Mussolini used the media as a weapon, demonizing his enemies and promoting his own interests. He also utilized propaganda as an effective tool, framing himself as (the) great 'Il Duce' (literally 'The Leader') and attempting to indoctrinate the youth into his military and political forces. The latter was executed through a combination of youth programs (à la Hitler Youth) and a complete restructuring of the educational system throughout Italy. Essentially, Mussolini replaced all historical material with pro-fascist renditions, emphasizing the glory and power of Italy, while he simultaneously banned the vast majority of other books that might conflict with this propaganda. Interestingly, he also emphasized the teaching of philosophy and the humanities, though obviously with the same fascist twist. Overall, his educational reforms (consolidated under the 1923 Education Act) were rather successful, maintaining a high literacy rate and a decent standard of learning (with the notable exception of some subjects—particularly history).
Mussolini's attempts to enhance the Italian economy and place in world politics all failed significantly, often placing Italy in a worse position than before their implementation. However, his social policies, particularly his educational 'reforms,' achieved relative success. The Lateran Treaty, his one real success, finally ended the issue of Church/State relations in Italy and recognized the Vatican as a sovereign power.